Can a Tesla Be Hacked? In-Depth Hacking Overview

Cars are becoming computers on wheels. This makes the problem of vehicle hacking all the more noteworthy because we rely on them to safely transport us back and forth. Eventually the cars will take over completely without any human input. So, where does Tesla stand? Are they vulnerable to hacks?

Any Tesla can be hacked but it is extremely unlikely to happen. Nothing in this world is 100% hack-proof. That being said, Teslas have one of the most advanced and secure systems in the world. Although there have been successful hacks in the past, Tesla has always responded by providing immediate software patches.

But what makes Teslas so special? Aren’t they prone to more hack attacks if they are known to be one of the safest cars? Check out the rest of this article to get a detailed overview.

Tesla’s Highly Protected Software

Teslas are an engineering marvel and are some of the world’s most protected cars on the road. Since its inception, Tesla has continued to update and improve their security measures to ensure its vehicles are as hack-proof as possible. 

Before rolling out new features or updates, Tesla’s engineers put the car through a series of tests to ensure it is free of vulnerabilities. Here are the different ways Tesla protects its cars against hacking:

Unique Hardware

Like other tech companies, Tesla designs and develops its own custom software and hardware. This gives Tesla complete control over the development process and allows them to better protect their cars against hacking. 

At first, Tesla utilized DS solutions for their cars until designers started using SolidWorks to design the Roadster. Currently, Tesla uses CATIA for its designing and engineering process, which incorporates CAD, CAM, and CAE (computer-aided engineering). 

Tesla-Hack

Regular Firmware Updates

As technology advances, new ways to hack cars are constantly being discovered. To stay ahead of the curve, Tesla regularly updates its software and firmware to patch any new vulnerabilities and keep its vehicles secure. 

Over-the-air (OTA) updates are regularly pushed out to all Teslas, ensuring every car has the latest security features. The updates happen over WiFi and take just a few minutes to install. 

Firmware updates often include new security features and fixes for vulnerabilities that have been discovered. Tesla also uses these updates to add new features and improve the overall performance of their cars.

Tesla Software Runs on Linux Ubuntu

Ubuntu is a safe and secure Linux-based operating system Tesla uses for its cars. This OS is known for its robust security features, making it difficult for hackers to penetrate. It is also regularly updated with the latest security patches, further protecting Tesla’s cars against hacking.

Did You Know?

Tesla rolls out major software updates every four weeks or so. The updates often include new features, performance improvements, and security enhancements.

Instead of checking for software updates manually through the car’s infotainment display, you can set automatic software updates on your car through “Controls”> “Software”> “Software Update Preference” and selecting “Advanced”. Follow the instructions on-screen to complete the process.

Tesla-Model-Y

Check out this somewhat related article that I wrote about Model Y Tricks, Hacks, and Tips. Can you make your Tesla faster?

How Tesla Keeps Hackers at Bay

Picture this: you’re driving down the highway in your brand new Tesla Model S. Suddenly, the car’s controls start to malfunction. The doors lock on their own, the windows roll up and down erratically, and the steering wheel becomes unresponsive. 

While this may sound like the plot of a Hollywood thriller, it’s a real possibility with today’s connected cars. As technology gets more sophisticated, so do the methods hackers use to break into tech systems, including Teslas.

Thankfully, Teslas are some of the most well-protected cars on the market. Teslas are a sophisticated piece of engineering with complex software and hardware and rely heavily on advanced technology to function. Tesla’s engineers are constantly working to outsmart would-be hackers and keep the cars secure.

Here are some of the ways Tesla protects its cars against hacking:

Recruiting Hackers to Find Flaws in their Software Systems

While this might sound counterintuitive, one way Tesla protects its cars against hacking is by recruiting ethical hackers to find flaws in their systems. These people use their skills to find vulnerabilities in systems so they can be fixed before bad actors exploit them.

In 2015, during the Def Con Hacking Conference in Las Vegas, Tesla released a challenge to ethical hackers to see if they could find vulnerabilities in the Model S. The company offered a $10,000 prize to anyone who could successfully hack into the car’s systems.

While no one could hack into Tesla’s core functions, the company found some areas where its system could be improved. As a result of the challenge, Tesla was able to patch these vulnerabilities and make their cars even more secure.

This shows that Tesla is serious about protecting its cars against hacking and is always looking for ways to improve its security.

Data Encryption

Any time you get in your Tesla, you’re sharing a lot of personal data with the car. This includes your location, destination, and even your credit card information if you have a Tesla payment system. Thankfully, all of this data is encrypted so that it can’t be accessed by anyone who doesn’t have the proper keys.

To encrypt this data, Tesla uses a technique called cryptography. This process transforms readable data into an unreadable format using mathematical algorithms. Even if someone were to get their hands on your data, they wouldn’t be able to make sense of it without the proper keys.

Tesla relies on the SHA256 algorithm to encrypt its data. It acts as a standard one-way function, meaning it’s easy to encrypt data but very difficult to decrypt it. This makes it the perfect tool for keeping your data safe from hackers.

Secure Over-the-Air Software Updates

One of the most convenient features of Teslas is the ability to update the software wirelessly. This means you don’t have to take your vehicle into the shop every time there’s a new software update. Instead, the updates are automatically downloaded and installed on your car when connected to WiFi.

While this is a convenient feature, it also opens up the possibility for hackers to exploit it. However, Tesla has put safeguards in place to ensure that only authorized software updates can be installed on their cars.

Each software update is signed with a digital signature before it’s released. This signature is like a fingerprint that’s unique to the update. When the update is installed on your car, the signature is checked to ensure it matches. If the signatures don’t match, the update is rejected and won’t be installed.

What Happens When a Tesla Is Hacked

While Tesla has taken many steps to secure its cars against hacking, there have been a few instances where hackers have been able to gain access to Tesla’s systems. However, in every case, Tesla has been able to identify the vulnerability and patch it quickly.

Check out this timeline to give you an easy-to-understand overview:

February 2, 2015

Two researchers were able to start a Model S with a software command and drive it.

They would access the car by plugging their laptop into a network cable behind the driver’s side dashboard.

Additionally, they found that if they had physical access, they could plant a remote-access Trojan and then cut the engine when the car was in motion.

The researchers worked with Tesla for several weeks to help them understand the vulnerabilities and how to fix them. Tesla released a patch to its Model S cars that fixed the issue.

February 2, 2015
June 4, 2016

Chinese White Hacks

In 2016, a group of Chinese researchers working with Keen Security Lab could remotely control a Tesla Model S by accessing one of the onboard computers.

They could open the doors, adjust seats, open and close the sunroof, and control the windshield wipers.

Tesla was notified of the vulnerabilities and released an over-the-air software update that fixed the issue.

June 4, 2016
August 5, 2018

Ongoing White Hacks

In 2018, Jason Hughes, an early member of the Tesla “root access” community, was able to hack his own Tesla to access more control and unreleased software updates.

He used white hacking techniques to find vulnerabilities in the system and then reported them to Tesla so they could be fixed. 

He also poked the Supercharger network accessing data about how many chargers were available at any time. He got into a conference call with Tesla and was awarded a $5,000 reward.

August 5, 2018
February 7, 2022

Third-party App Vulnerabilities

A recent hack happened earlier this year after David Colombo, a German teen, was able to find a vulnerability in a third-party app installed in some Teslas.

He gained access through TeslaMate, an app that helps Tesla owners analyze data from their cars, allowing him to flash headlights, unlock doors, and play music. 
He accessed 25 Teslas using the app, exposing the dangers of third-party apps that have not been vetted by Tesla.

With the many third-party apps available, Colombo believes collaboration between car manufacturers, car owners, and app developers will help prevent future hacks.

February 7, 2022
Here is a YouTube video of professional hackers hacking a Tesla Model S

Random Stat:

Tesla delivered 936,172 units in 2021, earning $53.8 billion in revenue. This was up from $31.5 billion in 2020. The convenience and luxury of Tesla’s cars have made them a popular choice for consumers despite the higher price tag.

Tesla’s Weak Points When Against Hacking

While Tesla has done a great job of securing its cars, there will always be weak points that hackers can exploit.

  • Third-party apps. Since Tesla does not vet these apps, they can be a way for hackers to gain access to the car’s systems. This was the case with the recent hack by the German teen.
  • Public WiFi networks. Hackers can exploit this connection to gain access to the car’s systems.
  • Physical access to the car is always a weak point. If a hacker can get access to the vehicle, they may be able to plant a remote-access Trojan that they can use to gain control of the car.

Rewards Given to Tesla Hackers

Tesla’s public bug bounty program rewards people who find vulnerabilities in their cars. The rewards start at $100 and go up to $15,000.

YearType of Hack Reward
2015-Started and drove the Model S by plugging their laptop into a network cable
-Could plant a remote-access Trojan through physical access
$10,000
2016-Remotely controlled a Model S by accessing one of the onboard computers
-Could operate the doors, adjust seats, open and close the sunroof, and control the windshield wipers
$10,000
2017-Jason Hughes hacked his own Tesla to access more control and unreleased software updates
-He also hacked the Supercharger system to check available chargers
$5,000
2022-David Colombo hacked 25 Teslas through a third-party app (TeslaMate)
-He could flash headlights, unlock doors, and play music. 
TBD
This table details the rewards that have followed several Tesla hacking attempts.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Types of Things Can Hackers Do if They Gain Access to a Tesla?

If they gain access to a Tesla, hackers can open doors, adjust seats, and control the windshield wipers. They have no access to the car’s core functions, so they can’t steer or disable the brakes.

Has Tesla Ever Had a Problem With Hackers?

Tesla has had several encounters with hackers in the past. Through these encounters, they have been able to fix vulnerabilities and make their cars more secure by releasing patches and updates.


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Erwin Meyer
Erwin Meyer

Thanks for visiting evspeedy.com. The goal of this site is to be a helpful resource for Tesla and EV owners as this is where my passion lies. I was a TSLA shareholder before the hype and still am. I also believe in Tesla’s speedy mission to accelerate the world to a sustainable future.